Thanks much so far! Good, helpful comments. I would be glad to hear some sort of elaboration on Tattyhat's part, too, because, as I said above, I'd like to know "why".
I'd like to follow up on only 2 of your very helpful comments, seanw3
Isn't that what 4x gamers have always been asking for? Interesting choices. And this game is full of them. Beyond that, each race approaches these concepts in unique and interesting ways. Each system needs a unique set of improvements to maximize its potential. There will be no Civilization IV cookiecuttering.
The ship design [...] is essentially as good as GalCiv2
Interesting choices is precisely what I have been looking for (and frequently posting on here, as well, at least for the last two years, in-depth here and to a slightly lesser degree here -- sadly, without much resonance from the dev team). What bothers me most about most TBS or even RTS games is a "must-have" no-brainer that makes all things follow the same plan, and hence allows for boredom. In which ways does ES accomplish this?
For the record, I found GalCiv's shipbuilding subpar in many ways. Most significantly, I found that besides the incredible cosmetic variance, I quickly became bored with my three choices (guns, lasers, or whatever the third thing was), and I found the need to update my Lasers II to Lasers III unsatisfying. That's where Distant Worlds (following the Space Empire's model) seems to shine.
Since I am not interested in multiplayer (have Dom3 for that), I'm still looking for the SP TBS that Elemental was not, and hence AI and real, polyvalent choices means everything to me.
Have you ever heard of a now-defunct game called Star Chamber? I've never seen more depth and choices packed into such a simple system before, pure brilliance. It's only fault was that it was a TCG, and was subsequently purchased (and then killed) by the evil entities at Sony Online Entertainment.